Senators need to maintain same high energy when full strength
THE Stirling Senators impressive start to the Men's SBL season has been built on heart, energy and effort, and coach Mike Ellis hopes that continues even when import big man Drew Naymick is finally cleared to play.
The Senators are one of a host of SBL teams yet to play any game in 2017 at full strength after seven rounds. But they have been impressive to sit on a 5-3 record following good wins over the Willetton Tigers, Perry Lakes Hawks and on the road to the Goldfields Giants.
The combination of Perth Wildcats development players Corban Wroe and Rhys Vague has been important for Stirling along with the star power of Cody Ellis along with the continued emergence of the likes of Jayden Coburn, Jay Thwaites and Oliver Cross.
Austin Bruton and Tom Witts provide that veteran leadership too, but it has been the performances of emerging big man Ash Litterick that has been the most important aspect of the Senators start to the 2017 season.
Litterick is having his breakout SBL season averaging 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds a game highlighted by his two performances against Perry Lakes and giant big man Brian Carlwell.
The Senators beat the Hawks on both occasions with Litterick delivering 18 points and four rebounds to open the season, and then another 24 and 12 back on ANZAC Day eve at Warwick Stadium.
The most exciting part of Litterick's showings to start the season is that he has had to step up as the starting centre despite being undersized and relatively inexperienced, and that he will receive help once Naymick is allowed to play.
"Ash has been amazing for us to start this season but what we want to do is give him some help in there. We are waiting to get clearances through and all that, but what I'm pleased about is the effort with Drew not out there," Ellis said.
"They aren't sitting around and thinking we'll be fine when the new guy comes in. Hell no, we don’t have time for that.
"We have to play now and the guys are doing that and right now the new guy won't come in and take the world by storm. He will just come in and just be part of it. He has been seeing what we're doing and he understands it, which is great."
The Senators were caught somewhat unawares shortly before the start of the season when informed that Kyle Lindbergh won't be returning.
Ellis wanted to get the right man as his replacement for the club's second restricted player and ended up settling on Naymick who has now been with the club for a month but yet to receive clearance to play.
Following his Michigan State college career, the 6'10 32-year-old has played all over the world before arriving for his first stint in Australia.
Ellis is a little frustrated at the continued delays, but can't wait to get the big man out on the floor potentially as early as this Friday night against the Joondalup Wolves at Warwick Stadium.
"We still aren’t sure to be honest and it's bureaucracy at its finest. It's just really frustrating. The problem has been that we have had a few short weeks in-a-row and the clearances and everything just haven’t gone through," he said.
"We had to wait for him to be cleared first of all and then approved by Basketball Australia on top of it. As you can imagine, he's just chafing at the bit to get out there and we'd love to have him out there. It's exciting to imagine what Ash could do when he's fresh.
"I could get that same production out of him in 20 minutes and then you add in what Drew can do, it's pretty exciting. He isn’t someone who will come in and want to score 30 a game and that's not what we want, but he'll give us a post target and he has some post moves. He's going to play some good D, he's going to change some shots and we can't wait to have him out there."
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for the Senators in the opening eight games of the season.
It started tremendously beating Perry Lakes at Bendat Basketball Centre before losses to the Rockingham Flames and Cockburn Cougars. They bounced back to beat the South West Slammers at home before a disappointing loss to the Kalamunda Eastern Suns.
Ellis challenged his group following that and their response has been tremendous with the wins over the Tigers, Hawks and Giants heading into this Friday night's clash with the Wolves.
The key to the Senators' wins this season has been them outworking and outhustling their opponents.
Ellis has been impressed by that and hopes it continues even when they are at full strength.
"We need to play with that energy. With the games that we lost early on, we didn’t have that same energy and that's the difference. We are trying to get that culture inbred in the guys and it has taken some time, but they are starting to see the fruits of that now. We just have to keep working," he said.
"The important thing is for the guys to get belief in themselves and by beating some of those top teams, you actually get that belief amongst the group. That Willetton game was huge for us. You don’t go down to Willetton very often and walk away with the win, it just doesn’t happen especially with that team they have right now.
"That was huge and to back it up against Perry Lakes was really pleasing. The belief is starting to get there even though we have a long way to go with lots of things to work on, but we are starting to gel together.
"Not being at full strength to train as well makes it hard, so we came into the season underdone unfortunately. The young kids have done a great job but they aren’t the guys who are going to step up and do it now. Whereas some of these guys are starting to do that which is great."
Prior to last Saturday night's win in Kalgoorlie over the Giants, the Senators' last home game was hosting the Hawks in what will now become an annual ANZAC Day eve contest between the two clubs for the Overwatch Australia Courage Cup.
Ellis couldn't be more proud to be part of that now moving forward.
"We have started up the Courage Cup with Perry Lakes. It's all about honouring our veterans and the Overwatch program is all about helping returning veterans with mental disabilities and everything that they deal with when they try to settle back into society," Ellis said.
"It's all about having people on ground where if something happens, Overwatch can help them really quickly and that's really important. I'm a huge advocate of this and our veterans have done so much for this country. We could have been speaking a different language if it wasn’t for them.
"Whatever we can do to help the awareness to give them the help they need now, we are happy to do it. The trophy was done by Frank Lane and Frank is a FIFO worker who got all his mates together to raise money to do that for this cause. Some great people have put a lot of work in to create the start of this tradition each year for such a good cause."
Photo by Vikki Hile